PSL Grand Prix preview: Cocolife Asset Managers

2017 Grand Prix record: 3-5 (4th)

Head coach: Moro Branislav

Imports: Taylor Milton, Sara Klisura (captain)

Key holdovers: Denden Lazaro, Tina Salak, Joanne Bunag, Mary Jean Balse, Nerissa Bautista, Jane Gonzales

Key losses: Michele Gumabao

Key additions: Shawna-Lei Santos, Honey Royse Tubino (from Cignal), Danika Gendrauli (from Sta. Lucia)

The Cocolife Asset Managers are only entering their second year in the Philippine Superliga (PSL) but they are already emerging as one of the top contenders for the 2018 Grand Prix crown.

Cocolife took the league by storm last conference when it eliminated one of the powerhouse teams in the Cignal HD Spikers in the quarterfinals. Propelled by American spikers Taylor Milton and Tai Manu-Olevao, the franchise made a breakthrough semifinals appearance before succumbing to the top-seeded and eventual champion F2 Logistics.

"It's not a matter of necessarily going wrong. We went up against a fantastic team and we just couldn't pull it off. I think we all were working pretty well together until the very end and we just fell short," said returning import Taylor Milton on their previous campaign.

With Serbian mentor Moro Branislav now at the helm, the Asset Managers look to sustain the momentum they got from finishing fourth in their last Grand Prix stint. Former head coach Kungfu Reyes stays with the squad as chief deputy while also juggling his duties with the University of the Santo Tomas in the UAAP.

"He brings a different style than we had before but by all means it's a great thing. It gives you opportunity to grow," Milton shared about Branislav. "He brings about key components to the game that not all of us think about sometimes, (such as) different ways to work with your teammates and communicate."

Cocolife lost its former captain Michelle Gumabao, but the rest of its veteran players remained, led by libero Denden Lazaro and setter Tina Salak. The team also recruited Fil-Am playmaker Shawna-Lei Santos and spikers Honey Royse Tubino and Danika Gendrauli.

"Michelle is a huge loss because she was our team captain and she was also a key player in our team but we're still lucky because we retained our core," Lazaro said.

Aside from Milton, Serbian Sara Klisura is set to reinforce the Asset Managers. The former Foton import made waves last conference as she displayed her offensive prowess every match. She even received a Best Scorer award for her 41-point output that shattered the league's highest scoring record of 40 markers.

Now tasked to help Cocolife's bid, Klisura was immediately given a daunting role of replacing Gumabao as the team's skipper.

"It's a big responsibility. It's the first time in my career that I have this role so I'm trying to give my best to be a good captain for the team," the 6-foot-3 open spiker said.

"Everything is great so far. I came here because I followed coach and I see that this team can make progress every year. This team has a big potential," she added.

Indeed, with all the improvements that they underwent since they debuted last season, it would no longer come as a surprise if the Asset Managers make another deep playoffs run this year.

"Last year, we exceeded expectations. We were able to reach our goal to be in the Final Four. We beat Cignal to be in the top four knowing that they were favored to be in that spot," Lazaro shared. "Now we're eyeing for higher things. We plan to be in the top three this time."